First Drive: Dacia Duster

All-new Duster cleans up…

The great appeal of a Dacia is that it promises to provide bread and butter motoring on a bread-only budget, but the new Duster looks like it’s trying to push things a little more upmarket.

It’s an evolutionary design, but it really is all-new, with not one body panel carried over; the headlights are spaced farther apart to accentuate the vehicle’s width, the bonnet is more contoured, and the grille bolder. Along the side there’s a vertical plastic highlight to add some sportiness to the profile, with longer doors and a higher waistline making it look sleeker. At the back there’s an entirely new light design and a much neater tailgate.

Step inside and, by Dacia standards, it’s a revelation. It’s still miles of unimaginative black plastic, but the quality has taken a step up in terms of both materials and build. It’s not quite a hewn-from-granite feel, but you’ll need to make some effort to break anything in there. There’s been a step forward in equipment levels too, with the Duster now available with climate control – essential this year, seemingly! – and 360-degree cameras that aid maneuverability.

It’s not at the expense of practicality either, as the Duster still squeezes in plenty of room to accommodate an entire family and all of their detritus. The boot takes 445 litres of pushchairs, bags and wipes, which is far more than you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf, while it expands to a massive 1,623 litres with the seats folded down. That’s more spacious than the back of a Volvo V60.

This Comfort spec model comes with an array of equipment, including that vital air conditioning. There’s also cruise control, satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows all round, body coloured bumpers, and alloy wheels, but you’ll need to splash out on the Prestige model for heated leather seats and climate control.

The range starts at £9,995 for the Access level model, a car that’s devoid of luxuries such as electric rear windows, air conditioning or even a radio, but there’s something inherently honest about the car. It’s ten grand, more than £3,000 cheaper than the cheapest Ford Fiesta, but you get a proper spaciou SUV.

Each subsequent trim level isn’t much more money though, and you’ll be tempted to keep upgrading until you’re suddenly looking at the thick end of £15,000, but even that’s something of a bargain.

Dacia save money by repurposing old Renault bits and pieces, with some parts of the Duster able to trace their lineage through to 1990’s Renault Clio. Of course, things have been continually updated, and the Duster drives like any modern car. In fact, it might even be a little bit better.

You’ll not want to push hard with the Duster as, frankly, the little 1.6-litre petrol engine is a tad coarse and runs out of puff quite early. There’s also only five gears, so you’ll find yourself trying to change into an imaginary sixth gear at cruising speeds. However, avoid that (it’s where reverse is, after all) and gently trundle around the country and it’s a pleasingly comfortable place to be. Big tyres on small 16-inch alloy wheels means all those little vibrations in the road are isolated, and basic but compliant suspension absorbs most of what’s left. Potholes throw it around a little, but it copes with everything else.

Well, almost everything else. If you want to venture off-road you’ll need to splash out even more cash and take the 4×4 option. This comes with that extra gear, as well as more complex rear suspension that eats into boot space a little, but will drag you around most difficult terrain without too much effort.

Everything combines to create a thoroughly likeable car that is entirely classless. It’s good enough to drive, spacious enough, and economical enough, even if it does fall short of being the best in class. But then you remember you can buy one for less than half the price of a Vauxhall Mokka, and any minor shortcomings are instantly forgiven. Even splashing out for the top of the range model with every option fitted will leave you enough change to go away on holiday for a month. And you’ll still have the better, more desirable car.

Model Tested: Dacia Duster Comfort SCe 115
Price: £13,195
Range: £9,995 – £16,395
Top speed: 107 mph
0-62 mph: 11.9 seconds
Power: 115 PS (113 bhp)
Torque: 156 Nm (115 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £180
Official fuel economy: 43.5 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 149 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 11E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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